Imagine knowing that you had one hundred dollars to spend at the grocery store but, once you got there, finding that not a single item had any price listed. You gather up the items you need but whether your bill will be $75 or $160 is anyone’s guess.
That’s a lot like how many patients feel after a medical procedure. In fact, it is entirely possible for two people to enter a hospital at the same time for the same procedure and for each of them to have wildly different bills at the end of their stay.
For those with high levels of medical insurance coverage, this may not be much of a concern. They know that they are responsible for their co-payment and that the insurance company will handle the rest.
Customers of high deductible health plans, however, could be held responsible for thousands of dollars before their insurance coverage takes over. And, some patients even pay out of pocket for medical care. For these customers, knowing what they are getting into financially before a procedure could make an enormous difference.
Hospitals are slowly starting to recognize this need for greater health care cost transparency and some are taking action. One of the leaders is Pennsylvania’s own St. Luke’s University Health Network. Lehigh Valley Live recently detailed the network’s new PriceChecker service.
PriceChecker essentially takes the hospital’s procedures and tests and puts a retail price tag on them. The reconstruction of an ACL will cost $10,270. Need carpal tunnel surgery? That will cost $4,100. A rotator cuff repair is $8,000. A two view chest x-ray is $100. In fact, the vast majority of St. Luke’s x-ray services cost $100. Only three cost more according to the new site.
This is one of the first times this level of detail about a hospital’s pricing has been this easy to access. And, pricing includes everything from the anesthesia to the operating room. It’s not unlike booking a stay at an all-inclusive resort.
As consumers start to take more and more responsibility for the management of their health care, it will become increasingly important for hospitals to make this level of financial planning possible. There is no reason that a billing specialist shouldn’t be able to tell you how much your procedure will cost before you walk through the door. It’s about time that services like PriceChecker at St. Luke’s start to make that vision a reality.